2016’s Deck the Hall Ball blew everyone out of the water. Along with a strong billing of artists came an even stronger set of performances, all of which left us breathless. From Empire of the Sun to Glass Animals, the artists at this year’s show were outstanding.
AK: I went into seeing Empire of the Sun knowing probably as much as you do: weird costumes, horrendous album artwork, but amazing synth-pop. What I watched on Tuesday night was beyond anything I ever could have imagined, and I’m really not putting that lightly. What ensued was an hour long set of pure art: backup dancers, custom made background graphics, and a new understanding of Empire of the Sun.
It is nearly impossible to not get sucked into their world. Their set was this beautiful mashup between a concert, a musical, and a movie. Half the time I didn’t know what was going on but, that’s okay. What I witnessed was absolutely extraordinary and no one can tell me otherwise. I don’t think my words or the videos and photos do them any sort of justice. It’s something that needs to be seen, and I need to see it again.
MK: As Empire of the Sun’s setup was built, Anna and I had time to talk. Exhausted students, we both agreed once smash hit “Walking on a Dream” played, we’d both be down to head home. We were intrigued by the amount of mist and smoke that was steadily filling the stage and the unique light-up props across the stage. We did not know what was coming. Anna said something along the lines of, “I am ready to be blown away. I am ready for this to exceed all of my very high expectations.” I laughed and shook my head.
As soon as Empire of the Sun took the stage, or rather the dancing “sun girls” as we’ve nicknamed them, I was captivated. What is this? What is happening? Am I in danger?
The futuristic flight path reminiscent of Disneyland’s Star Tours ride was broadcasted on the stage screens. The sun girls were holding giant glowing tubes, while others wore giant, inflated skirts, billowing so high that they could squat down and disappear into the fabric. He rose slowly; The Emperor (also known as Luke Steele) floated into sight adorned in a golden headdress, dramatic blue tunic, and his weapon, an aqua Fender stratocaster, strapped in and ready to do some damage.
The rest was a blur. Reflecting back on the show even minutes afterwards, I couldn’t help but to question the reality of the show I saw. Each of the details were so exact, so masterfully crafted and executed, I was enticed by it all and could remember nothing.
The best quality of seeing Empire of the Sun live is, more likely than not, you’ve never seen anything like this before, and therefore, have no idea what will happen next. I expected headdresses and elaborate costuming. I did not expect The Emperor to shred guitar solos like nobody’s business in a world of dreamy alt-pop. I did not expect the masterful digital effects and dance; I did not expect a mostly seated KeyArena crowd to jump up on their feet in awe. I did not expect to see Empire of the Sun violently smash a guitar, and more than anything else, I certainly did not expect a roadie to run out on stage, hand The Emperor an identical guitar to the one he just smashed, and see him smash another one.
Empire of the Sun was a performance that I will never be able to truly explain. There was too much to see and to much to hear; the show captured every bit of attention I had, and I still couldn’t grasp what exactly was going on. I never expected to say/type/resonate with this sentence but here I am: I love Empire of the Sun. I hope to see them live again soon, and honestly, you should, too.
MK: The Head and the Heart were clearly fan favorites; they drew a substantially larger crowd away from the wonderful KeyArena refreshments than Jimmy Eat World did, and the audience sing-along was at an all-time high. With a massive stage presence (mostly due to the overflowing band members filling the stage), The Head and the Heart took the stage with what seemed like exponentially more instruments than band members, if you can believe it. Consistent with my predictions, there was not just one indie hat (see below), but three fun, original indie hats present (piano player’s beanie not pictured).
After bidding the crowd goodnight and saying “thank you very mush,” a casual phrase that seems to be coined by the band and used to confuse the audience, they left, and so did half of KeyArena. Perhaps more impressive than The Head and the Heart’s layered sound, comprised of bright piano, acoustic and electric guitar musings, and a simple, building drum routine, is how much of the audience left after their set. People flooded out. Given that Empire of the Sun was not only the headliner but one of the most jaw-dropping live shows around, this was impressive and slightly sad.
*A special shout out to the couple about seven rows back on the very right of the floor. I have never seen two humans commit so fully to dancing, embracing, singing, and staring into each other’s eyes for one song, let alone an entire set. Your impressive dedication was noted, the passion was overflowing, and the awkwardness was tangible. I wish you two the best.*
AK: Jimmy Eat World was a rapid flashback to my middle school years. Before their set, I was convinced that I only knew one of their songs (yes, that one that you are also thinking about), but I was honestly stunned how many hits Jimmy Eat World has created. They played one smash after another, and subsequently provoking one awkward middle school moment after another. My favorite moment of their set was watching these now thirty- and forty-year-old men sing lyrics like, “I’m not alone cause the TV’s on, yeah / I’m not crazy cause I take the right pills everyday.” Also, the unannounced acoustic cover of “Last Christmas” was beyond any sort of description.
MK: Despite knowing little of Phantogram’s music outside of their hit “Fall in Love,” the band’s set was energetic and easy to get into. Sarah Barthel’s vocals were beautiful, and her between-song banter rested perfectly on the border of cringeworthy and hilarious.
The duo, comprised of Josh Carter (guitar, vocals) and Sarah Barthel (keys, vocals), were heavily carried on stage by Barthel for her bold voice and crowd-hyping ability. If Barthel brought her talent, Carter brought his untimely, Donald Trump, shark-like presence, either lurking behind or next to her. As she hit her notes, he would frequently walk over with his guitar and stand inches next to her for no reason. Am I complaining about this behavior? Certainly not. Both performers seemed comfortable with this odd intrusion of space, and while it was almost too uncomfortable to bear, it was impossible to look away.
Sarah Barthel – 10/10 for singing chops and energy.
Josh Carter – 6/10 for bringing some laughs, but also seeming a little like a creepy stage-lurker.
When I imagined the first time I would see Glass Animals, I never thought it would be in an arena, but there I was at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, watching Glass Animals command the stage at KeyArena. Despite only playing a terrifyingly short set of six songs, the British quartet seemed like they played arenas every night. They opened with “Life Itself” before playing two more from their newest record, How to Be A Human Being. Those two ended up being my favorite of the night, as watching Dave Bayley dance to the video game beat of “Season 2 Episode 3” and massive synth intro of “The Other Side of Paradise” was as adorable as much as it gave me secondhand embarrassment. After giving many thanks to the audience, Glass Animals ended their set with the crowd favorite “Gooey,” and then were gone seemingly almost as soon as when they first started playing.
ANNA KAPLAN & MARIA KING | Empresses of the Sun | KXSU Music Reporters